I wasn't planning on picking this up, but there was only one book from my usual list out this week (Astro City), so I figured I'd give Marvel's somewhat backhanded tribute to the industry's female talent a look.
I wasn't very impressed.
That's not a knock against any of the creators in particular, just the package. I've seen several of them do great work before, and I'm looking forward to seeing them do it again. This, though, feels like nothing so much as a waste of some very good talent.
You've all seen Amanda Conner's cover by now, which is very well done, as is to be expected. You can get more, and better, from her with the monthly Power Girl comic, though, so let' s move on to the interior.
Colleen Coover gives us a quick two-page intro highlighting some of Marvel's finest heroines. Unfortunately, they all get a panel each, none of them are named, and a reader hoping for further illumination will be disappointed to find that none of them show up in the rest of the comic. So if you were looking for some help in that regard, allow me: In order of appearance, they are Medusa, Dagger, Black Widow, Valkyrie, Nomad, Spider-Woman, Domino, Emma Frost, Tigra, Miss America, Wasp, Storm, and the Invisible Woman.
Moving on, we have our first feature story, a tale of Nightcrawler by G. Willow Wilson and Ming Doyle that, frankly, needed a few rewrites. I question the wisdom of leading off this series with, not just a story about a man, but a story about a man saving a woman from being raped by another man. There's a bit that tries to have it both ways, where the rapist gets the upper hand briefly and the woman knocks him out with her shoe (no, really), but it lacks the punch it ought to have, because Nightcrawler's never really in any danger. I mean, c'mon, he's freaking Nightcrawler. The art is enjoyable, though, reminiscent of Paul Pope in a good way.
Next, Trina Robbins and Stephanie Buscema tell a clever, whimsical 8-page story of Venus. It makes some cutting and welcome comments about being a woman in business, along with the casual misogyny of the fashion industry. And it's appropriate that Venus saves the day without hitting anybody, especially given who the villain of the piece turns out to be. It's great to see Stephanie Buscema following in her grandfather's footsteps, and if this story is any indication of what's to come, she's doing the old man proud.
Follows a two-page text piece on Flo Steinberg. It's meant as a tribute, but it comes off rather condescending, in a "You've Come A Long Way, Baby!" way. I learned some new things about a deserving historical figure, including her important place in the history of independent comics, but that only serves as a strong contrast to her current, inexplicable position as a mere proofreader. Really, Flo Steinberg could run Marvel Comics, and I'm left asking, why isn't she?
The following piece by Valerie D'Orazio and Nikki Cook is basically a Punisher riff on "To Catch A Predator," and I pretty much told you the entire story right there. It's much less clever than it thinks it is, and doesn't tell me anything about the Punisher I didn't already know. Hell, drop the premise on anyone, and this is the exact story they'd write. So let's move on.
Sana Takeda offers a cheesecake-y She-Hulk pin-up that refers back to probably one of the most ridiculous and sexist moments in the character's history (helpfully reprinted in the lower right corner for anyone who doesn't immediately get the joke), so I'm not really sure what the point was there.
Lucy Knisley does a two-page Doc Ock story about the good doctor grocery shopping. It's funny, charming, and just the right length for such a thing.
Another two-page text piece honors Marie Severin's career, both inside and outside of the Marvel Bullpen. Again, while the spirit is honorable, the subtext highlights just how far women haven't come in comics in the last 50 years. Severin's career at Marvel, to the cynical, comes off as a trail of small, niche projects before being shuffled off into the business side of the firm. Which comes off as uncomfortably familiar, when you look at this book as a whole.
Robin Furth, Agnes Garbowska, and Kristyn Ferretti handle the other long piece, Franklin and Valeria Richards in a clockwork remix of Hansel and Gretel. The storytelling borrows quite a bit from the world of children's books, to excellent effect, and the characterizations of Franklin and Val are spot on. I'd love to see more from these collaborators.
Finally, we have Devin Grayson (remember her?) and Emma Rios giving us their spin on the old Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine love triangle. The story is nothing special, especially given the status of these characters in current continuity, but Rios's art is great (especially the ninjas; gotta love ninjas). She belongs in Marvel's top stable. Really, most of the creators here do, which gets me back to the "waste of talent" thing. It's probably unintentional, but doing an anthology comic of women creators in the superhero genre comes off as, you'll pardon the reference, putting Baby in a corner. I mean, we're talking about a niche of a niche of a niche of a niche market here. I keep coming back to the big question of "Why?" Why isn't Emma Rios on X-Men? Why isn't Trina Robbins on whatever she goddamn wants? Why isn't Flo Steinberg running Marvel comics?
For the same reason Helen Keller couldn't drive. And no matter how much this comic tries to dress itself up in a "You go, girl!" aesthetic, the reader is inexorably drawn to that fact. So, in that respect, Girl Comics is a failure. The bright side, if there is one, is that said failure will hopefully inspire a real dialogue about the way things are, and a real change in the way business is done in comics when it comes to the gender gap. Yes, it's a naive and romantic notion, but so are superheroes.